The recent week of warmth and humidity has taken a turn towards cooler weather today, and the south winds are freshening up and blowing in across the lake from the northwest now. But the full height of Summer’s glory was on display this Saturday, when over one hundred people from across Vermont and beyond attended Urban Moonshine’s first annual herb conference and the evening festivities that followed. I had an amazing time.
Rosemary Gladstar, our friend and ongoing source of inspiration, kicked off the event by describing the success herbal medicine has enjoyed – in our communities and on the national stage – but also by exhorting us to keep up the momentum and find new, creative ways to bring the plants into the lives (and kitchens) of those who need them most. Then we broke into class sessions held in yurts, out in green fields with sweeping views, or on the trail in the forest. Larken shared thoughts on differentiating and applying the nervine herbs; Betzy toured a huge group around the gardens and fields; Jeff shared his knowledge of medicinal herb cultivation; Melanie set loose the herb spirits by crafting flower essences on a truly perfect, sunny day; Mary gave a case-based overview of some herbal strategies for kids; Layla was the diva of essential oils; and Brendan taught how to fit Western herbs into the energetic and spiritual framework defined by classical Taoist Chinese medicine.
Throughout the day, Jovial and the Urban Moonshine crew took complete care of every detail, making sure there was plenty of water, energy tonic, and, of course, herbal bitters. They coordinated classes, showed folks to the pond for a refreshing afternoon swim, and prepared our dinner (along with Woodbelly Pizza, who trucked in their wood-fired oven and baked pies non-stop). And after browsing the herbal products marketplace, Colleen and Peter planted themselves behind the bar and served a range of home-created cocktails to the assembly of herbalists: drinks such as the “Dreamer”, featuring crushed mugwort leaves, as well as more classic mixes (a great negroni, for instance). A fiery-orange moon came up over the Eastern ridge and the music got turned up.
As is so often the case for me at these types of gatherings, I loved my side-conversations with folks in the in-between times. I especially enjoyed talking with Brendan and his wife Liz, who are acupuncturists practicing at Jade Mountain Wellness and study medicine and philosophy in an ancient Taoist lineage. We mostly discussed how “wood” (as in the phase of change associated with spring) dominates our culture: we are immature, impulsive, infatuated with our newest technological marvels (fortunately, I had just finished swimming so my smartphone was far, far away). While there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of new things, we tend to discard our older ways much too quickly – and, of course, medicine is a great example of this pattern. Nothing wrong with antibiotics, I love the stuff when it’s needed: but do we really have to use them for every little infection? Probably not. You could make the same case for steroids, narcotics, anti-inflammatories – you name it. Brendan’s point was that, in being so “wood”-centered, we are overtaxing “metal”, which is charged with keeping the sprouting wood under control. Metal connects to ancestor wisdom. It connects to wild, animal nature. It connects to bonfires and howling to the moon. Too focused on wood we are, and metal suffers. If we fed our wild side a bit more, if we could learn to retain a measure of ancestor-wisdom, we might not be turning to our internet devices every thirty seconds. Just sayin’.
Of course, that is precisely what this gathering of fine herb-folk is promoting. And while the conference and party were a success, I am also extremely grateful to Urban Moonshine who is donating all the profits to our community clinic, where we work with folks who often have no money and provide them with long-term access to experienced practitioners, along with teas, powders and tinctures as needed, for as long as is needed. You can learn more about this work at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism.
I taught a little class on herbal extraction and the distillation of herbal spirits. It was fun. Here’s the handout if you are interested.